Sony’s game/DVD console, PlayStation2, debuts in U.S.

The latest version of Sony’s video game/DVD console, the PlayStation2, went on sale at midnight Wednesday at hundreds of stores across North America. As we reported earlier, the initial demand for the new PlayStation2 was so great that Sony has already said it will not be able to meet it, shipping only 500,000 of the over 1,000,000 units that were expected to be available. Despite the initial shortfall, Sony says it will ship 10 million units worldwide—and three million in North America—by March.

Chief rival Sega—whose Dreamcast console is currently available—is already on the attack, saying that Sony’s product may have potential, but the modem needed to run its extra applications will not be available until 2001. Even then, consumers will need high-speed Internet connections.

Bickering aside, if it lives up to its potential, PlayStation2 could signal a new generation of consoles, where consumers can eventually play DVD movies, download music, play games with their friends in another city, and do some surfing – all through their TV sets.

Most retailers in North America pre-sold the majority of their initial orders, leaving few consoles on the shelves for consumers to fight over on launch day. Others, such as Best Buy and Circuit City, which bucked the trend by not taking pre-orders, sold a limited number on Thursday. Toys R Us curtailed its advertising of PlayStation2 and alerted customers that it wouldn’t have additional consoles on the launch date beyond pre-orders. Some retailers were unable to honor their customers’ deposits, and to help meet demand at stores, Sony said it will not offer the game player on its Web site. Still, many gamers and potential DVD consumers lined up in the early morning hours at major electronics retailers with tents and food to be the first to own the machine.

Time will tell if this all-in-one machine can compete with dedicated DVD players as a Home Theater product. It’s a good possibility though. Consider this: in Japan, more than 3 million PlayStation2’s have been sold since March. In that time, DVD sales nearly quadrupled to 16 million, compared to the same period the previous year, according to the Japan Video Software Association, an industry group. So, potentially, this could mean that our constantly booming hobby could experience still more unprecedented growth in the coming year…

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